Adm. Charles Richard, who heads the U.S. Strategic Command responsible for nuclear deterrence, recently stated on the pages of this newspaper that “there is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state.” So, does that mean that the words of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” and that “each nuclear arms state should renounce any and all options involving the initiation of nuclear warfare” are obsolete and we should get ready for Armageddon?
To answer this question let us review President Biden’s “America is back,” return to “normal” foreign policy that will be infused with “American values.” As Harvard professor Stephen Walt correctly states: “When U.S. foreign-policy officials have pursued realistic goals in a flexible and nonjudgmental way, they have mostly succeeded. When they have tried to do the impossible, have relied too heavily on military force and overt coercion, and have expected other states to ignore their own interests and just do as they are told, these U.S. officials have mostly failed.”
Mr. Walt did not present the consequences of these failures but his colleagues at Brown university did, and they are horrific: Since 2001, more than 801,000 people have died due to direct war violence, among them more than 335,000 civilians. The number of wounded is several times higher and 37 million people became war refugees and displaced persons. Tens of thousands of Americans have been killed and wounded and the U.S. federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars is more than $6.4 trillion.
So, when Mr. Biden talks about a return to “normal,” what exactly does he mean? This is especially important to know since, as senator and vice president, he endorsed all these wars.
Another interesting question arises when one hears about the return of American values to U.S. foreign policy. Besides the obvious fact that Washington often works with and supports dictatorial regimes whenever it serves its interests, the very meaning of the term “values” has itself become rather ambiguous. American society is heavily polarized and judging from the often-mega-hateful rhetorical exchanges between Republicans and Democrats, the conflicting sides apparently confess a different set of values. Within each party, there are groups like the Lincoln Project Republicans, or radical left Democrats, or neoconservative and liberal interventionists whose “values” betray the better traditions of both parties.
Therefore, as Steven Cook of the Council of Foreign Relations correctly suggests, Americans “must first repair the damage they have done at home to their own sacred values, principles and ideals. Unless the United States demonstrates some humility on both fronts, its messages to the world about freedom and rights will be so diminished that they will be easily ignored.”
Considering the chances that the U.S. establishment might follow Mr. Cook’s advice are slim, and that Russia and China are not prepared to yield to America’s hegemony, does that mean World War III is inevitable?
Some may accept this bleak destiny but there are many Americans and Russians who agree with Sting when he sings that “I do not subscribe to this point of view” and suggest starting a dialogue.
Why not begin with an area where former President Donald Trump, Mr. Biden, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping — or for that matter leaders and peoples of around 200 countries or territories on this planet — would agree on how we can save our beautiful planet without losing but adding jobs. One idea comes from scientists who calculate that the world has an additional 2.2 billion acres of land suitable for reforestation. That provides enough room to plant an extra 1.2 trillion trees that would contribute to carbon sequestration. More than half of reforestation potential is in six countries: Russia (373 million acres), the United States (255 million), Canada (194 million), Australia (143 million), Brazil (123 million) and China (99.3 million). Many countries are welcome to join this effort, but the United States and Russia must lead.
With all the differences between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, it looks like this idea is a rare case when both men have a similar vision. On Oct. 13, 2020, following up on his pledge made the during 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and later during the State of the Union, Mr. Trump signed an executive order establishing the “One Trillion Trees Interagency Council,” which will be responsible for coordinating the federal government’s support of this initiative. President Biden said: “In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis, and we can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes, we feel it, we know it in our bones, and it’s time to act.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry also discussed climate change and the implementation of the Paris climate agreement in a call on Feb. 13.
They agreed to cooperate further within the Arctic Council, including developing contacts, “given the significance of climate issues on the Arctic agenda.” Some American and Russian activists propose to involve in this process general public and have a tree planting international Flashmob on April 25 since this is the symbolic date when the militaries of both countries met in 1945 on the Elbe River in the German city of Torgau to finish off the brutal Nazi regime and end WWII.
One such tree was planted on that day back in 2015 next to the sculpture of the Elbe River reunion in downtown Moscow in the presence of many Russians and Americans, including U.S. embassy officials.
The plaque next to the tree says that it is dedicated to the Friendship of Peoples of the United States and Russia. The organizers believe that this effort is the answer to the question raised in the headline of this article.
• Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.
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